State geoduck tests stirred by China expected by end of week
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The state Health Department expects to have results of testing for arsenic in Poverty Bay geoducks by the end of this week, and North Olympic Peninsula tribes hope the results will break an impasse with the major customer for the clams.
Seafood inspectors in China said earlier this month that they found high levels of arsenic in geoduck clams from Poverty Bay, which is just south of Saltwater State Park near Federal Way.
Saying they also found high levels of a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, in geoducks from Alaska, on Dec. 3 inspectors in China suspended all imports of West Coast geoducks and other bivalve shellfish.
The state began special testing for arsenic in Poverty Bay geoducks on Thursday, said Donn Moyer, media relations manager with the state Department of Health.
Officials have already shut down commercial geoduck clam harvesting on 135 acres of state-owned aquatic land.
Almost 90 percent of Washington state’s geoduck harvest was sold to China in 2012.
Harvesters along tribal, state and private shorelines have all been touched by the suspension.
“We’re definitely affected by it,” said Ralph Riccio, shellfish biologist for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, based in Blyn.
Members of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe harvest geoduck several days per week along the Hood Canal, Protection Island and central Puget Sound.
Even though past spot tests have shown low levels of arsenic, new tests are being done to verify previous testing, Moyer said.
“We typically don’t test shellfish for arsenic because historically it’s not been an issue,” Moyer said.
“It’s such a non-issue that there are no federal standards for it.”
Thirty-six shellfish samples are being tested, according to KOMO News.
The state did a spot check in Poverty Bay in 2007 “and the levels were very low, well below any level of health concern,” Moyer said Friday, adding that officials in the U.S. don’t know how Chinese inspectors tested for arsenic.
“We’re really hoping that this gets taken care of,” Riccio said of the suspension.
“Our guys at a standstill right now.”
The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe has 18 dive boats that participate in the geoduck fishery in the same locations as the Jamestown S’Klallam.
Doug Morrill, natural resources director for the Lower Elwha tribe, said he was hopeful that the ban would be lifted before the geoduck season reaches its peaks next month.
“Probably one of the more critical things is coming on Chinese New Year, when the demand and price goes up,” Morrill said.
Morrill said people in Asia buy vast amounts of specialty foods such as geoduck for the Chinese New Year, which this year falls on this Tuesday.
The winter is also a time when geoduck is targeted among Washington tribes because other fisheries are out of season.
Lower Elwha geoduck harvesters took a holiday break and planned to resume harvesting on Jan. 6.
“They don’t have a market because they can’t ship it to China,” Morrill said.
“It’s really bad timing.”
Last modified: December 28. 2013 5:02PM